Monday, September 5, 2011

Cat on a Cross: Jungle Action #20

Jungle Action #20 (March 1976)
"They Told Me a Myth I Wanted to Believe"
Don McGregor-Billy Graham/Bob McLeod

Doug: Welcome back to part two of our four-part review of the Klan story that ended the Black Panther's run in Jungle Action. As you'll recall from last Monday's review, we loved Billy Graham's (and Bob McLeod's) art, but were a little dismayed by the amount of words used by scribe Don McGregor! Yeah, the dude can tell as story... but it's like War and Peace! This one's no exception to that, so let's dig right in and see what this installment has in store.

Doug: First off, I do want to take issue with the cover, which has absolutely nothing to do with the interior story. Our setting is not a city, but a small town in Georgia. Secondly, there are two big fights in this issue, neither of which classifies as a "Slaughter in the Streets!" Perhaps this was a stock image; Rich Buckler did a ton of covers for Marvel in the mid-'70's, so it's possible. Anyway, maybe I'm just griping too much -- lord knows covers nowadays have nothing to do with the inside. I'd also say, on the positive side, that the art is again very good and McGregor's script -- while much longer than I am used to -- is really very good. He seems to accomplish politically what Denny O'Neil struggled with in our series of Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories. McGregor's soapboxing just seems more cogent.

Karen: Yeah, I flipped back to the cover after I started reading the story, just to be sure I had really seen it. It has nothing to do with the story. One could easily assume Marvel wanted to avoid Klan imagery, except they had no problem with it on the cover of the previous issue. Maybe there was a time crunch and they had to use a stock cover?

Doug: It does make one wonder... So Monica Lynne and T'Challa are at the supermarket, and the Panther's in his fightin' togs. I'm sorry... as we both said last issue, we get the idea that they are not super-heroes all of the time. I can handle seeing the Wakandan in some jeans and a t-shirt once in a while. But his garb seems to be the impetus for what comes next, which is a free-for-all. As a bunch of catfood cans begin to topple on an old lady, T'Challa springs to her aid; at the same time, two thugs approach Monica and put a knife to her throat. T'Challa, in my mind, takes a huge risk and attacks one of the accomplices. Now, I'm no SWAT-team strategist, but I'm thinking in a hostage situation that involves a serrated knife, cool and calm might be the orders of the day.

Karen: Yes, wearing his costume here makes no sense. It feels contrived. Also, as I mentioned previously, while I think the art is beautiful and very detailed, I think the story-telling aspect is somewhat lacking. We never see exactly what happened with the old lady and the cat food falling on her. I flipped back a page to see if I'd skipped one, but no. Also, it strikes me as unbelievable that the men attacking Monica would have so much time -they spout off a litany of threats -while the Panther is saving the ungrateful old cat-lady.

Doug: I have felt that some of the scenes play out "long". In a way, it's like the art is decompressed. But boy, there sure are words! McGregor continues to spin this web of intrigue. As the assailants grab Monica, they discuss that "the reverend" has spoken -- that our baddies will grab Monica Lynne and speak a warning to her. What's weird, however, is that they tell her the Klan is a danger to her... but they also remark on the events that took place in the cemetery that involved our purple-hooded thugs (the Dragon Circle Soldiers). As they say, the plot thickens.

Doug: Back to the fight, T'Challa is ripped across the forehead by the old lady he'd just helped. As he staggers, some among the other customers pile on. Then the small town's finest arrive, and they are just typical comic book cops -- these fellows could have been formerly employed in a Spidey mag. They pistol-whip the Panther, and it's really not looking good before the sheriff of last issue arrives. He gets everyone calmed down, and then cracks some bad jokes. It's all a bit bizarre. As Monica assists T'Challa out of the store (they do finish their shopping, by the way), T'Challa and the sheriff both note that the goons who attacked earlier are most likely not affiliated with the Klan -- yet in the midst of everything, they revealed where a Klan meeting is to be held!

Karen: I have to say, the whole thing has me confused. Again, I'm hoping the eventual resolution will explain it all.

Doug: Later in the evening, T'Challa and Monica stroll by a plantation that Monica once had fantasies of owning. We learn that Monica's sister had allegedly committed suicide; previously we'd been led to believe it was a murder. Yet more details emerge, as we learn that she died at her office, at 2:00 in the morning. Most passing strange. We also learn that Monica's sister wrote in 1968 that while at college she had friends involved in campus protests, and that she hated guns. Monica then asks T'Challa to hold her.

Karen: At least he lifts his mask to kiss her. I suppose the mystery of the land deal will also be revealed soon.

Doug: The remainder of the book is an outstanding juxtaposition of soliloquy from our reporter friend, Kevin Trublood, and the infiltration of the Klan meeting by the Panther. Trublood is at the Lynne household and begins to rant about his morals, and how he still believes in American values. He discusses how he's dreamed of writing an expose' on the Klan, and how it probably won't make much difference. He's dreamed of the Pulitzer Prize yet understands the risks involved. And even though people think he's a fool, he remains fearful for his family but steadfast in his beliefs that the United States is a great country. While this goes on, T'Challa moves through the trees as Tarzan would, then drops smack in the middle of a heavily-armed band of Klansmen at a cross-burning! He fights bravely, but succumbs to the overwhelming numbers. I have to say, he takes a severe beating in the process. As he falls, we see his body lifted and tied to a cross... a cross which is then righted, and set ablaze!

Karen: Trublood's monolog reminded me very much of the things going on with Captain America in his title during the Steve Englehart years, which were published a few years prior to this. Of course America was still suffering from the fallout of Watergate and Viet Nam, and confidence in the nation was shattered. But the idea that the ideals of America still had value was something people could hold on to, and fight for.

Doug: This is a different Black Panther than I'm used to. I've not read the "Panther's Rage" storyline yet; when I had Panther solo books as a kid, it was this very four-issue arc that we're reviewing. So the way Steve Englehart and Jim Shooter (heck, even Stan Lee) had written T'Challa was markedly different from the personality grafted to him by McGregor. I'd say that this is a guy who takes chances, somewhat rashly. He's not the calm, polished monarch as he was so often portrayed in the pages of the Avengers. But I'm really liking this take on him. And I'll say, too, that as we've commented on the sheer magnitude of the words used by Don McGregor, this mystery is really a slow reveal that I'm gripped by. I am enjoying this series, as I really don't recall too much of this from my first read 35 years ago.


Edo Bosnar said...

I haven't yet gotten around to (re)reading these stories in my Black Panther Masterworks, so I'll go on my memory of reading them about 30 years ago. Generally I really liked this story, and I recall being really moved by its treatment of the Klan and the wider issue of racism. I think Doug's observation about McGregor pulling off social commentary like this much better than O'Neil is quite astute.
As for McGregor's wordiness, I know it didn't bother me when I first read these - I don't think I even noticed it. (I wonder what I'll think of it once I do get around to re-reading it - although I have to say, I just finished reading McGregor's original run of Killraven stories, and I can't say his verbosity bothered me).
One thing I do vividly recall, which both of you commented on, is T'Challa walking into a supermarket wearing his costume. Even back when I first read this I remember I sort of WTF-ed - I mean, it's not like Spidey or Captain America would do something like that...

J.A. Morris said...

I guess only McGregor could answer the question "why have T'Challa walking around the grocery store in costume?", but here's why it never bothered me:

1.He's investigating the mysterious death of Angela Lynne, he and Monica have already been attacked twice by the KKK and/or the Dragon's Circle. So he needs to be in costume to respond at a moment's notice. He could at last take off the mask though, I'll give you that much.

2.T'Challa doesn't just wear the suit because it's a superhero costume, it also has family and ceremonial purposes relating to his status as Wakandan king.

I just finished the Jungle Action Masterwork last night. Great stuff, the various pencilers and inkers did a great job helping Mcgregor tell the story.

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